The Big Tunnel in Summer
When railroads were introduced into Lawrence County, the hills presented quite a challenge. Rather than go around one such hill located between Tunnelton and Ft. Ritner, the O&M (Ohio & Mississippi Railway) made the decision to tunnel through, thereby saving about eight miles of track. The hill became known as Tunnel Hill. The resulting tunnel was a 1750 foot-long, man-made cave carved through the solid rock of the hill and appropriately named The Big Tunnel. It is located approximately three miles southeast of Tunnelton on River Road.
The first train to pass through the Big Tunnel ceremoniously left Ft. Ritner on the morning of October 6, 1856, and included a flat car carrying several young ladies in fine white dresses. It was a memorable inaugural run and not without incident, for halfway through the tunnel the train stalled and had to be pulled out by mules. It was necessary for the passengers to walk out, and, as one might expect, the smoke and soot had ruined everyone's fine clothes. That did not dampen the enthusiasm, however, because people reportedly crowded around each entrance for many days after to watch the rail cars go through.
The Big Tunnel did present some danger for the trains because rocks would loosen and fall from the top of the tunnel down onto the tracks. There were accidents; a passenger train derailed and the cars telescoped inside the tunnel. So the railroad employed a watchman to walk through the tunnel and clear the tracks of fallen rock after every train passed through. About forty years after it was built, however, the entire tunnel was lined with brick and that ended the problems in The Big Tunnel.
The Big Tunnel has fostered local legends and rituals for generations since its construction. Some people reportedly have seen the "ghost of the tunnel" or at least felt his ghostly presence. Long ago a man named Henry Dixon was murdered, and his body was reportedly placed in the tunnel so a passing train would erase any evidence in the crime, which it apparently did, for although almost everyone knew who murdered Dixon at the time, no one could prove it. So for generations now, the ghost has been walking the tunnel or the hillside, carrying a lantern in one hand and his head in the other.
Today not as many trains pass through The Big Tunnel as in years past, but the interior is just as long and as dark as it was when it was built in 1856. It is still exciting and makes one's heart pound to see a train emerge from the tunnel. Unfortunately, the brick is now covered by graffiti since many of the younger generation think they must make their marks for posterity by painting names, slogans, pictures, and often disgusting things anywhere they can; and the area tends to be littered with cans and bottles. There are still doorway-like indentations in the walls in which to huddle when a train does come through, although you may have to share it with a painted skeleton. You may still hear the ghostly footsteps behind you or possibly feel something lightly brush by your shoulder as you reach the point of total darkness just before you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! The legends and the stories of The Big Tunnel will continue to intrigue for generations to come!
Best Viewed LARGE